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March 2, 2014

Consumer Reports: Don't let ad traps catch you

Want to save 50 percent, get a product free or have a manufacturer’s warranty cover an expensive purchase for life? Of course you do, and advertisers know it. Consumer Reports says that while federal and state laws generally ban the use of misleading or deceptive advertising, regulators can’t monitor everything, and seductive half-truths and outright deceptions are common.

So it’s up to you to figure out what’s true, what’s false and what’s pushing the envelope. Consumer Reports notes these advertising terms you shouldn’t take at face value:

• “Satisfaction guaranteed.” Federal Trade Commission guidelines say that companies should use “satisfaction guaranteed” or “money-back guarantee” only if they’re willing to give full refunds to unhappy customers. The guidelines say that companies must disclose any conditions or limitations, such as a time limit.

Some companies’ satisfaction guarantees are friendly. The website of retailer Lands’ End says you can return any product you’re not happy with at any time for a full refund or exchange. But others are less so. Under Michelin’s 30-day satisfaction guarantee, if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with your new tires, you can return them — but for an exchange, not a refund. And if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with the replacement tires, forget it — the policy applies only to the first set.

• “Going out of business.” New York City consumer officials recently fined a shop that sells rugs, antique furniture and other items, accusing it of running a going-out-of-business sale without a license. The company, operating under a slightly different name, had held a going-out-of-business sale at the same location nine months earlier. But even at a legitimate going-out-of-business sale, don’t assume everything’s a deal. While checking out the Circuit City liquidation sale some years back, Consumer Reports found a copy of the weekly sales circular that would have been in effect had the chain had not gone belly-up. A 50-inch plasma television being liquidated for $1,799 would have been on sale for $1,500. Consumer Reports also found a better price at a retailer that was not going out of business.

• “Lifetime warranty.” The term “lifetime” has no legal meaning by itself. It can refer to a product’s lifetime, not yours, and that could mean the period of time a retailer carries the item, the manufacturer still makes it, parts are available or you still own it.

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